Seeking info on 1961 labor camp fire in Cutchogue

09/17/2019 5:51 AM |

Early on the morning of Oct. 8, 1961, a Sunday, a fire erupted at the Eastern Suffolk Cooperative farm labor camp at the north end of Cox Lane in Cutchogue. Four residents of the camp died in the blaze. Three of the men were said at the time to have died in their room in one of the many squalid barracks at the migrant labor camp; the fourth died later in the day at Eastern Long Island Hospital. 

Just a year earlier, famed CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow filmed a scene at the camp for a documentary called “Harvest of Shame,” which cast a dark light on farm labor camps up and down the East Coast. Many North Fork residents at the time were said to be angry at the documentary’s depiction of life at the Cox Lane camp.

An account of the fire published in The Suffolk Times on Oct. 13, 1961, stated, without attribution, that the cause of the fire was a “leaky kerosene stove.”

The story identified the dead as James Overstreet of Mississippi; LeRoy McCoy of North Carolina; Charles Jordon of Ohio; and James Davis of Maryland.

Southold Town police who were involved in determining the cause of the fire were identified in the story as Chief Otto Anrig; Sgt. Theodore Howard, and officers “Harris, Boken and Winters.” Boken was William Boken, who five years later would murder Louise Pietrewicz and bury her body in the basement of the Southold home he shared with his wife, Judith. He got away with that murder and was never prosecuted.

The story concluded with these words: “… the investigation showed no criminal negligence or any criminal action.”

If anyone among our readers knows anything about the fire or the stories of the four dead, please email Steve Wick at [email protected].

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